The Orange marched on in dominating fashion, as it only trailed once in the entire game when the score was 5-4 after the opening two minutes. Syracuse never looked back after a jumper by Paul Harris broke a 7-7 tie.
Arizona State's match-up zone didn't seem to pose much of a task for the Syracuse offense. The Orange used a balanced attack, starting on the inside with big men Rick Jackson and Arinze Onuaku. The two combined for half of SU's points in helping the ‘Cuse to a 20-14 lead about mid-way through the first half.
Then came the bombs from the outside. Guard Andy Rautins drained two shots from beyond the arc to give Syracuse an eleven point advantage. The Sun Devils tried to keep the game in single digits, hitting a barrage of three-point shots throughout the first half. Forward Rihards Kuksiks knocked down one of his five three-pointers in the half to cut the deficit to eight.
But then the Orange went on a run, scoring seven unanswered points to push its lead to fifteen, its largest of the opening twenty minutes. Junior guard Eric Devendorf buried a shot from long range and then made an assist to Onuaku on a fastbreak dunk. Rautins capped off the run with a rare off-balance two-point basket.
Syracuse went into the break leading 41-32, much of the scoring due to Devendorf and Onuaku. The guard from Bay City, Michigan paced the ‘Cuse with eleven points while the big man controlled the paint with ten of his own. It was a rather quiet half for Johnny Flynn scoring-wise (four points), but his five assists and dribble-penetration created high quality shots for his teammates. The Orange shot an astounding 18-of-28 (64.3 percent) from the floor.
The second half was much of a continuation of the first, the Orange using a deadly inside-outside combination to stay ahead of the Sun Devils. Jackson started the half with a traditional three-point play. Then Flynn found the range from the outside, bumping SU's lead to twelve.
Arizona State did its best to stay in the game, as Jeff Pendergraph scored six points for Sun Devils to keep within striking distance. But another jumper by Rautins extended SU's lead once again to fifteen points. Minutes later Pendergraph picked up his fifth personal foul, essentially signaling the end for Sun Devils, as he was one of their only big men. Onuaku immediately took advantage, putting SU up by twelve after throwing down a two-handed slam.
At this point with nine minutes and change to go, the game seemed like it was in the hands of the Orange. But the Sun Devils made one more final push, and it certainly had to have had SU fans biting their finger nails. For the next three minutes, the Orange went scoreless, allowing the Sun Devils to climb back into the game. Ty Abbott's three-pointer capped an 8-0 run to pull ASU to within four.
Following a timeout, Rautins pulled the trigger on a deep three from the corner and drained it to give the Orange a 64-57 lead with about six minutes to go. Then Devendorf ended the comeback hopes of the Sun Devils. Devo knocked down back-to-back trifectas to give SU another double-digit lead. Down the stretch the Orange made eight of its ten free throw attempts to seal a trip to Memphis on Friday.
Some other observations from Syracuse's 78-67 win over Arizona State:
· After a shaky second half performance against Stephen F. Austin in round one, the balanced offensive attack was back for the ‘Cuse. Five players scored in double-figures with Devendorf leading the pack. The junior had 21 points, including five makes from beyond the arc. Rautins followed with seventeen points while also dishing out five helpers. Jackson dropped in thirteen and collected eight boards while fellow big man Onuaku had twelve. Flynn rounded out the scorers with eleven points while handing out a game-high seven dimes.
· When Syracuse wins, it usually shoots well and that was the case in this game. The Orange shot 26-of-47 (55.3 percent) from the field. SU outrebounded ASU 33-24, only committed ten turnovers, and shot a blazing 81 percent from the charity stripe.
· The Orange's 2-3 zone confused Pac-10 Player of the Year James Harden. Apparently Flynn didn't give any tips to Harden when the two went out to eat dinner the day before. He could've used some. Harden was held scoreless in the first half and only attempted four shots.
· The win gives head coach Jim Boeheim 799 career victories. With another win, Boeheim would become only the twelfth head coach in Division I men's basketball history to amass 800 career victories.
Syracuse (28-9) takes on the second seeded Oklahoma Sooners in the South regional semifinals on Friday. The party in Memphis is set to tip-off at 7:27 p.m.